Thanksgiving, Teenagers, and Tornados

Happy Thanksgiving to all my family and friends! I find holidays, birthdays and anniversaries to be a time to reflect on where we are and where we are going. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There are no presents to buy, just delicious food to bring to a table with people who hopefully you enjoy sharing meals with. I love sitting in circles and sharing stories and this is the holiday that we do just that. Today there are 28 people whom I will be sharing a meal with. Yes, my blessings are abundant, but if you saw me yesterday, you would not get that picture. I was caught up in STRESS, standing on lines getting pies, sitting in traffic as I went from place to place making purchases, and lost in my to-do list and projections.  It was my daughter’s birthday and I was planning her favorite dinner. In the midst of the rushing around, there was a miscommunication with a loved one. Oh, and there was a CAT scan on the schedule. The stress was not because I had pies to buy or a birthday to celebrate or the miscommunication or the CAT scan. The stress was about the stories I was telling myself.  I got caught up in an old tape that I was not good enough, I am not listened to, that I do not matter, that I get no respect. Those stories alternated with worry. I love Thanksgiving but I hate Thanksgiving Eve. There is lots of drinking and drunk driving on Thanksgiving Eve and my grown children are out and about. I worry about that. I worried that the CAT scan might show something that should not be there. And, for God’s sake I have a teenager in the house now. I was losing my innocent baby girl. The feeling I had was  that I was a direct hit for a category 5 hurricane. Well, can you blame me?  I have raised three children already and I know about the storms that accompany adolescence. Why should this fourth child be different? Teenagers are nightmares. Right? Ha! Finally, when I felt bad enough, I stopped. I literally stopped.  I took some deep breaths. I observed my negative thinking and I told myself that they were all lies. BIG. FAT. LIES. Here was the truth: My house was clean. Desserts were bought. Everyone was safe. I am in good health. My daughter who turned 13 was still my darling daughter. Her birthday cake was baking in the oven. Miscommunications happen. We are human, after all. My older daughter was on the train coming home for Thanksgiving. Ahhh, COMING HOME, that is what Thanksgiving is about. But first I needed to COME HOME to center within. It all starts from that place. I strayed from center yesterday. I am human. Today, my intention is to bring my centered self to the Thanksgiving dinner.

For all of you that read this page, wishing you a very peaceful Thanksgiving.  When it gets too hot in the kitchen, step aside, take a few breaths and notice the stories you are telling yourself and begin again. And for those of you that are not sharing a meal with others, wishing you a peaceful Thanksgiving. Hope you are your own best friend and you enjoy the company you keep in the quiet hours.

Today, I am grateful for my health, my husband and children, my family, my friends, and my work. I am grateful for my ability to shift gears in the storms. I am grateful for teenagers, especially mine,  who show me what creativity, vitality and gaining independence looks like. I am especially grateful to my dad who taught me “When it is too hot in the kitchen, GET OUT!”

Mindfulness in America

Mindfulness in America

I am still soaking in the wisdom of the conference I attended this week “Mindfulness in America”. I have studied mindfulness, I practice it daily and I teach it whenever I get a chance.  I couldn’t wait to hear from the experts in the field. I am thrilled that this powerful practice is becoming more commonplace in the western world. My concern about the “mindfulness movement” is the potential for it to be reduced to a sound bite for a t-shirt. It is so much more than a buzzword. Mindfulness, when not diluted, is about freedom from suffering, transmuting pain into resilience, and being fully present for our lives. As Anderson Cooper stated, “Mindfulness may not help me live longer, but it will help me live more fully in my life”. Mindfulness is about creating space for more possibilities, not being an expert but approaching everything as a beginner, even if you are a so-called expert. Mindfulness is about curiosity. Mindfulness is about connecting to the observer that is in all of us, the greater part of us. We are more than just our thoughts. There is that part of us that is the observer of our thoughts. Getting in touch with that Observer is like experiencing the depth of the ocean underneath the waves. That is where the peace can be found. If I don’t take time to connect with the deeper part of ME, I cannot be my best self.

The biggest obstacle to meditating for most people is the time it takes. Taking the time to meditate is a radical act of love. Do you have 15 minutes to sit and meditate? Our society places a huge emphasis on physical fitness. What about mental fitness? The biggest time thief for many of us is the time we spend lost on our devices. My intention is to start taking back my time that I spend in the wasteland of the internet. What if we shaved off 15 minutes of social media time to meditate.  And for those that find sitting on a cushion is unfathomable, I invite you to practice mindfulness walking, eating and doing almost any other task. If you would like more information on practicing mindfulness, go to my website and sign up for the monthly newsletters. There you will find free downloadable meditations and mindfulness practices. https://westchestercenterformindfulnessandwellbeing.com.

I loved playing truth or dare when I was younger. Today it still carries a thrill and a promise.  Here is the Truth of the day: We can change our future by changing our relationship to the present.  Here is the Dare: I dare you join the “Mindfulness Movement”and see for yourself the results of incorporating mindfulness in your own life.

Wishing you harmony in all areas of your life!

 

On Forgiveness

On Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a topic that has shown up a lot in the past couple of weeks. I listened to a mother who lost her son during 9/11. She spoke about the importance of forgiveness and yet, reserved the right not to forgive the terrorist organization as they showed no remorse for what they did. I listened to a holocaust survivor talk about how she forgave the Nazis and that it helped her live a more peaceful life. She went on to share that there are many fellow survivors who are angry at her for publicly forgiving the Nazis for their wrongdoing.

Forgiving is not the same as condoning. We think we are punishing others when we don’t forgive. The only people we are punishing is ourselves when we don’t forgive others for the wrongdoing that caused us harm. It is the act of holding onto our past hurts that cause us to continually re-live them. What we resist persists. The person who harmed us goes about their life with remorse, or not. Our lack of forgiveness affects us, not them. Bitterness is a terrible thing to live with. We can hold people accountable for their wrongdoing at the same time we forgive them.

What happens then if the person we need to forgive is ourselves? I work with parents, especially mothers, who beat themselves up for messing up on-the-job. If the kid gets a bad grade, we parents ask ourselves where we went wrong. Worse yet, if our child is using drugs or depressed, we blame ourselves. We think we must have done something desperately wrong to have that outcome. I know. I am a mother of four. I, myself, have wished I would have been wiser, more evolved, handled situations differently, been more skilled, over and over and over again. At the root of all this beating myself up is shame. Shame is rooted in the belief that I am not good enough.

So, if shame is the obstacle to self-forgiveness, what is the solution? The first thing to do is to see the story that we are not good enough as just that…a story. Acceptance of ourselves as the flawed humans we are is paramount to having any peace. Next, I have incorporated the idea presented by Brene Brown, author of Rising Strong, that everyone is  doing the best they can given the conditions they were brought up in and the resources or limitations they have. Many of us instantly protest this idea, claiming that people are not doing the best they can. Whether that is true or not, imagine how much less you would suffer if you adopted this belief as well. Try it out for a day.  See what it feels like to give yourself and others the benefit of the doubt.

If I am still having a hard time forgiving myself or others, I practice lovingkindness meditation. This is a process that really opens your heart with compassion for others. For free monthly meditations, click the link below and sign up for monthly newsletters. https://westchestercenterformindfulnessandwellbeing.com  September’s newsletter featured the lovingkindness meditation. I encourage everyone to do this meditation every day for a couple of weeks and see what happens. When we  practice lovingkindness we are actually re-wiring our brain and opening our hearts.

May you be happy. May you be well. May you abide in peace. May you feel safe and secure. May you feel loved and cared for. (And May I feel all those things as well!)

 

Father’s Day Reflections

I wasn’t planning on writing today. But I also wasn’t planning on being so melancholy. It just happened. The day started out great. My daughter gave a piece of art to my husband that she has been working on for 2 months. We enjoyed a nice morning together. But, naturally, I started reflecting on my own father, who left this earth 14 months ago. I miss him terribly. To be honest, Father’s day wasn’t an easy day when he was alive. They didn’t make Hallmark cards for the kind of dad I had. He was not an easy man to live with but he always had our back. He was scary at times but the world was less scary with him in it. To give you an idea of what I mean by this, picture Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino in the scene “Get off my lawn”. Everyone who saw that movie in particular, said how much Clint Eastwood reminded them of my dad. Yup, that is as close a depiction as you are going to get, minus the gun. My father was a complicated man: he was a hero in his job as a firefighter, he was a star as a basketball player when he was young, and he was a larger-than-life person in many ways. When we needed a new bathroom in our house, no contractors were hired. My father demolished the old bathroom and put in a new one. When we needed a new roof, he put on a new roof, with the help of his brother. My father did everything in a big way. He smoked  A LOT of cigarettes, he drank A LOT of alcohol, he LOVED US A LOT and we knew it, and he screamed really loud and the neighbors all knew that. He defied death several times; he smoked for over 60 years, fought fires in the Bronx when the Bronx was burning, and he survived prostate cancer, laryngeal cancer and alcoholism. What was an early stage lung cancer going to do to him? He would have the lobe of his lung out and be back to driving us all crazy in no time….so we thought. But 9 days after the surgery, my father died of complications. Not only did his large presence leave a huge void for all of us, it also changed my awareness of my own mortality, in both good and bad ways. I say things that I may have left unsaid before. I wake up and acknowledge that I have another day on this beautiful earth.  I am more hyper vigilant about various physical symptoms that arise….a little too aware of my own impermanence. The other change that happened since my father died was the realization that when our loved one dies, we remember the good more than we remember the bad and that even the so-called “bad” aspects are embraced after death. My sisters and I have many hilarious stories about his “Clint Eastwood” moments. It is the contrast of life that is so magnificent. I am remembering to welcome all the emotions that show up as well. Rumi describes this beautifully in his poem “The Guest House” (see below). Today, I welcomed gratitude for the two fathers of my children and for the father I had. I welcomed sadness and gave myself space for reflection. For all those out there without fathers, missing their fathers, estranged from fathers, or hating their fathers, I sent loving-kindness. For all those blessed with fathers in their life who show up and do the best they can, enjoy the moments!

 

The Guest House by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

No One Would Know

No One Would Know

As we walk around through our day, there are times that NO ONE WOULD KNOW what we are dealing with, our inner turmoil. How do I know this so well? I lived it. I was the master of the “Mask”, the cloaked look that all is well, that I AM FINE when in fact, all was not well and I was in pain. How many people are walking around with demons of addiction, financial insecurity, feeling inadequate, feeling worried about their health, their children, their job or any myriad of other things? How many are anxious or even panicky and don’t want to admit it? How many are depressed and the idea of facing a beautiful day when the birds are chirping is so, so hard? I think it would be safe to say that we ALL have our demons. That is our shared humanity.  However, for many of us the demons are not shared; they are experienced in isolation, which magnifies the problem.

I started taking off my own mask when I joined a circle of people who were willing to honestly admit their darkness, their shortcomings, and their fears. I then was able to admit my own and accept that I was not unique. The reason I love doing group workshops is that when we create a circle of trust and non-judgment accepting whatever “visitor” enters, whether it be despair, anger, or grief, it is powerful indeed. We share in our common humanity and at the same time see the other person’s divine nature. It is being “seen” that heals. The mask comes off when we are seen in our wholeness. When we isolate, this is not possible. We have created an online community of shared humanity and compassionate solutions. Mindful and Compassionate Communities has a mission to create community, to educate individuals, families and communities in mindfulness and self-compassion and to empower others to face what is under the mask and share in the story “No One Would Know”.  We want to hear your story about your inner struggles that have yet to be shared openly and exist under the mask of “I AM FINE!” Join our community and share YOUR story! Use the hashtag #noonewouldknow when posting your story.

https://www.facebook.com/mindfulcompassionatecommunities/

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Loving-Kindness for ALL Mothers

Loving-Kindness for ALL Mothers

One of my favorite meditation practices is a loving-kindness meditation. It is a meditation where we mentally send warmth and kindness to others and to one’s self. It is a beautiful way of cultivating compassion. In this meditation, I sit comfortably, close my eyes and place my hand over my heart. I first send loving kindness to myself, because first things first. Next, I bring a particular person or group of people to mind and send them Loving-Kindness. I do this by repeating 5 phrases silently. Here are the set of phrases I mentally direct to the person(s) I am thinking about:

           May you be well, healthy and strong.

           May you be happy.

           May you experience peace.

           May you feel safe and secure.

           May you feel loved and supported.

 And at the end, I visualize all the loving-kindness that I sent out to others as coming back to me and I repeat the 5 phrases for myself, once again. I do this part because I believe that whatever you send out in the world comes back to us. Yes, it is a kind of boomerang, the Law of Attraction in action.

This morning, my loving-kindness meditation was directed to all mothers…to mothers who try their best yet never feel good enough, to mothers who lost a child, to mothers who are estranged from a child, to mothers who have a child in prison or rehab, to mothers who have given their child up for adoption, to the mothers who have adopted those children, to mothers who never saw the face of their child, to mothers who are mothers and fathers, to mothers who feel isolated, to mothers who feel they messed up and still don’t know what the right thing would have been, to mothers who scream at their children and then feel guilty, to mothers who spoil their children and then feel guilty, to mothers who are no longer with us physically, to mothers that drag their tired butt out of bed to do the next right thing for their child, day after day after day, for ALL mothers…mothers who are joyous today and mothers who suffer today, and especially to MY mother, who loves me still with every beat of her heart.

There is no curriculum for being a mother. It is personal, between mother and child. Motherhood is sacred and tough and the biggest honor in the world. It is joyful and sorrowful and never carefree. If we allow it, our children can be our best teachers. They mirror what needs to be healed within us. They are not our trophies. They are our blessings, masterpieces to be discovered….together. I have been and continue to be taught well by the four gems that carved out motherhood for me: John, Katie, Kevin and Sarah.

If you are a mother, send yourself some loving-kindness today….and know I have already sent some your way.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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When the going gets tough…Take a Self-Compassion Break

When the going gets tough…Take a Self-Compassion Break

We all have moments where we feel we don’t measure up. A friend described a scenario to me that was so relatable. She was describing a low point in her life on a beautiful spring day as she was walking in Central Park. She was looking around and saw people pushing carriages, holding hands, playing Frisbee, and laughing. She groaned. She believed that these seemingly happy people must have received a manual that she somehow missed on how to be happy. She had a veil of darkness that prevented her from plugging into the Well-Being that is there for the taking, the Universal Flow of Life. This was one of her darkest moments but also one of her brightest moments, as it was the moment that she realized she needed help.

All of us have moments that are dark. AND we all need each other. It is in connection that the light can enter our darkness. Being connected to our own inner self is vital for our Well-Being. When I am struggling with any negative emotion, I connect to myself by taking a self-compassion break. I learned about self-compassion from Dr. Kristin Neff. To learn more about the research behind practicing self-compassion: http://self-compassion.org.

Practicing self-compassion is similar to treating yourself like you would your best friend. I use it in my parenting a lot. Parenting is not for wimps. It can be really tough especially when adolescence hits. When I am feeling frustrated, angry, disappointed, or any negative emotion, this is what taking a “Self-Compassion Break” looks like for me.

  • I take a deep breath.
  • I acknowledge that whatever it is I am going through is tough. I say to myself “This is difficult.” Once I acknowledge the difficulty and accept that what is happening in the moment is what it is, I tap into a immediate sense of relief. I can feel my shoulders drop. I relax a little.
  • I then say to myself,  “I am not alone. There are millions of other parents who go through these difficulties.” This is a real switch from former beliefs that other people have the answers and I am the only person in the dark. This forms CONNECTION. This lifts the veil of isolation.
  • I then place a hand on a part of my body in a gesture of love to myself. If no one is around I may place my hand over my heart. If I am doing this out in the open, I may place my hand on my arm and stroke my arm in a reassuring way. I am sending love and kindness to myself. I say “May I be kind to myself as I go through this difficulty. May I send myself love.” I tell myself that I am doing the best I can. Then, when I am able I say a couple of affirming statements, such as “I am brave. I am facing my challenges wholeheartedly.”
  • I usually end my self-compassion break with a mantra that I find helpful such as “This too shall pass.” “The Universe is always conspiring for my benefit.”

By the time, this process ends, often just a couple of minutes, I have shifted. The great news is that I can do it at any time and it helps me become connected even when I am alone. It is also a great process to model for your children. Children start to become critical of themselves in grade school. We tend to think it is motivational to be critical of ourselves, but research has shown this is not true. Self-criticism can induce anxiety and depression. Cultivating self-compassion is protective against anxiety and depression.

Spring is here! I wish you renewed hope, peace and joy. The next time your inner joy is muted by grief, anger, frustration or sadness, try a self-compassion break. Send me your comments about your experiences. Would love to hear from you!

To join the movement of Mindful and Compassionate Communities and to learn more about our programs, click on these links:

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